Recent data from the UNHCR shows that women and girls in The Democratic Republic of Congo continue to be sexually assaulted throughout the country at an average of almost 14-assaults each day since the beginning of the year.
The agency is alarmed by the large number of rapes that have persisted over the years, and how rape continues to be used as a weapon against women, even after the civil war.
Fatoumata Lejuen-Kaba, spokesperson for the UNHCR, says even though the civil war is over, there are still some very volatile regions in the country.
“Today even in areas where there is no war going on, you still have lots of rape cases reported. That is why we are very much alarmed. There is total impunity, lack of justice. We think this makes it easier for people to just continue raping as they’ve done in the past, ” says Lejuen-Kaba.
UN data shows that during the first three months of this year, 1,244 women were sexually assaulted throughout the country. That’s about fourteen assaults a day.
Lejeune-Kaba says, “To curtail this, we’re trying to minimize vulnerable women’s exposure to dangerous situations where they get raped. For example, in the camps, we know that when women venture out to go get wood or water, they are raped. So we provide them with firewood or fuel-efficient stoves, for example. But overall not enough is being done.”
She says women and girls who are sexually assaulted, in addition to the physical trauma and exposure to violence, feel shame and hurt, rather than harboring a sense of anger toward the rapist. The women are often abandoned by their husbands and families and are left to cope with the crime alone.
“We are trying to make sure that rape is recognized as crime, and they are prosecuted—so we provide legal assistance. For example, in south Kivu province, the number of rape incidences is really high. We’ve helped 145 survivors file complaints in local courts and as a result, there are 24 men charged and they were sentenced to jail terms. Some of them were ordered to pay compensation. And we are running an information campaign to inform husbands and police officers that the woman is a victim and shouldn’t be held responsible,” says Lejeune-Kaba.
Lejeune-Kaba added there have been positive responses from the information campaign, with still a long way to go.